Creating plans to reopen schools have become a highly unprecedented whirlwind. In the swirl is Gov. Phil Murphy, the teachers, administrators, staff -- and students.
Who would have though the word “cohort” would ever have become so popular?
The governor has given his blessing to families who want to bow out of bricks-and-mortar learning, making all-virtual learning an option for any family that wants it. Across Sussex County teachers are divided, some embracing remote schooling for the sake of safety from the coronavirus, while others can’t wait to get back to getting back in front of a class.
As September approaches, here are some schools’ plans:
Kittatinny Regional High School has designed multiple, flexible schedules, the better to navigate an unpredictable year. “We are prepared to run these schedules, as well as our traditional schedule, at any point,” said principal Brian Bosworth.
Kittatinny plans a delayed opening. The school day will begin at 7:30 a.m. with teacher office hours and virtual instruction. The in-person day will begin, from 9:15 to 9:30 a.m., as students arrive, whether by school-provided or parent-provided transportation. Students will follow their traditional nine-period day, with each class meeting for roughly 30 minutes. They will attend in-person on an alternating schedule as part of their assigned A or B cohort.
Bosworth said the schedule for a typical school week will be: Monday -- A cohort, Tuesday -- B cohort, Wednesday -- A cohort, Thursday -- B cohort, and Friday -- A or B cohort. Days when students are not in school, they will learn remotely.
Bosworth said they have done extensive work with Kittatinny’s sending district schools “to provide some more stability within our shared families, as well as to work within the transportation parameters of our large geographic district.” Two of those sending districts are Sandyston-Walpack Elementary School and Stillwater Township Elementary School. William Kochis is the shared superintendent for both. Stillwater’s hybrid option “will allow students to attend school full day either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, based on which cohort they are placed in,” Kochis said.
Each Friday, one cohort will be physically in the school while the other uses the school’s remote learning platform. “We are also working closely with local organizations such as the YMCA to investigate childcare options for our families during the remote learning days,” Kochis said.
Kindergarten teacher Denise Bessemer has been teaching at the Stillwater School for many years and loves being in the classroom. “We love setting up our rooms and getting ready and excited for a new school year,” she said. “This new normal is sad for everyone, including teachers.”
Sandyston-Walpack School’s hybrid option will have students in the building the full day on either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, with full remote learning for all students on Friday and off days. As with Stillwater, Sandyston-Walpack is working with local organizations to find childcare options on remote learning days.
Vernon High School will open in three phases, starting on Sept. 3. “This system is cognizant of parents’ schedules,” said the principal, Dr. Pauline Anderson.
The third phase will conclude in November. “At that point, we are hopeful that we can enter phase four which is going back to school,” she said.
Students are being divided into two teams, blue and gold, the school’s colors. One group will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be all-virtual so that workers can sanitize the school.
“We’re looking at having 12 to 13 students in a class at a time,” Dr. Anderson said. “And we’re glad of the ruling by the governor that everybody – teachers and students alike – need to wear a mask while in school. We’ll open on September 3rd and have early dismissal days until November so that teachers can check with students who are working from home later in the day. This also allows our students to wear masks for just six hours a day, which is a long time to get used to.”
Bus routes will remain the same as before so that when the full in-school schedule resumes, they will be in place.
Tom Argersinger, recently named head administrator at Veritas Christian Academy, a private high school in Sparta, said the school’s plan is extensive and thorough, based on state and federal guidelines and consultations with other schools. Hand sanitizer will be available in all rooms, and staff will be enlisted to clean their areas.
“We will be opening face to face but operating very carefully according to CDC guidelines,” he said. “All students will be required to wear masks when in transit in the hallways, and in the classrooms, there will be social distancing.
“We are fortunate to have a small school which makes this easier for us...For now, that is our plan, but at the end of the day, it depends on Governor Murphy. He could, at any time, say thanks for playing, but....”
Sussex County Technical School will be opening for full days with half of its students attending each day by alphabet: A-K and L-Z, said Debbie Keiper, the vice principal.
Sparta High School’s acting superintendent, Patrick McQueeney, has been working with administrators and the Return to School Roadmap Committee to put together a plan. “Every precaution is being made to keep the staff and students safe and healthy,” said Kim Bragg, Sparta Board of Education president. Hybrid learning will be arranged by A/B weeks. “Families can choose whether to transport their children themselves or to be bused by the district,” Bragg said.
Lenape Valley Regional High School will also put students into groups, according to a letter posted from principal Thomas Claeys. The student body has been split into two cohorts -- A (students whose last names start with A through L) and B (students whose last names start with M through Z) -- who will be on campus at different times. When one group is at the school, the other group will participate in classes online.
High Point High School will be opening during the first week of September. “We have a thorough plan for doing so in a safe and cautious manner, and our entire reopening plan was the byproduct of robust consultation with our school community and the more than 85 stakeholders who continue to serve on High Point’s Reopening Task Force,” said the superintendent, Dr. Scott Ripley. “The social and emotional benefits of turning to school are a top priority, and we are working daily to make our reopening a safe and healthy one for our entire community.”
Like other high schools, High Point will be use a hybrid schedule. The school will rotate two cohorts of students through a schedule of in-person learning in the mornings, and remote learning in the afternoons.
David Carr, superintendent at Wallkill Valley Regional High School, said, “The path to reopening changes rapidly.” Here’s the plan: “We will be splitting the students into two groups for in-person instruction. A student will be at school one day and remote the next day. This will allow us to reduce class sizes and operate within the current state guidelines. We will be running on an early dismissal schedule.”
Pope John XXIII
Pope John XXIII in Sparta is the only school that will be operating in person all five days of the school week, in a letter to parents signed by its four administrators.
The Newton School District has set up “town hall”-style Zoom meetings through which parents can get information and ask questions. According to the school website, the Newton school board has approved the release of the district’s Restart and Recovery Plan as directed by the New Jersey Department of Education
Charter School for Tech
Sussex County Charter School for Technology will have students come into the building at half-capacity by splitting them into A-weeks and B-weeks. Students who choose this model will spend one week in the classroom and have one week of synchronous remote instruction, the plan states, adding, “Students coming into the building will be split into cohorts that will remain in the same classroom for the duration of the school day, which will eliminate unnecessary contact.”
Whether families choose all-remote learning “really depends on each family and their situation -- for what they need,” said Angela Lusardi-Sepe, who worked for the Sparta Township Board of Education and is a former teacher. “The way things change from day to day, along with chancing a child contracting this virus, all schools should stay closed. Most in-class set ups are having children at their desks -- not getting out of them for a long time. They will have to be six feet apart with masks. What kind of socialization is that?”
She said some working parents have no choice but to send their kids to school. “Teachers will be the best they can be, because the teachers care about their children,” Lusardi-Sepe said. “I wish all schools would share plans so that all the schools could be at their best. Parents need to ask their questions before making a decision. What kind of air filtration system will there be? Will there be a mask break? What are the protocols for if one child/adult contracts the disease?”